‘Plumber to the stars’ retires after 48 years | Business

Gary Campbell came to Taos in 1973 as a result of the revolution, as he put it, and spent 48 years working as a plumber in some of the finest homes in the city. But at the age of 68, he is ready to retire and reflect on his half-century career.

Campbell grew up outside of Detroit, where his father worked for The Detroit News. His family moved to Daytona Beach, Florida, and after high school he was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. Due to a leg injury, he was given a 4F reprieve.

“I had dug trenches for a plumbing company,” Campbell said. “So I was a ditch digger, second class.” He started as a plumber with Charlie Price at Taos Mountain Plumbing.

“He lent me a motorcycle — I didn’t have a car,” Campbell said. “And of course I crashed his bike. But he gave me a second chance.”

Price retired and got his PhD – he’s now a psychiatrist. “I think plumbing is actually a lot like doctoring,” Campbell said. “Except we wash our hands afterwards.”

“It’s fluid systems, and dynamics and pumps,” he explained. “Listening to the clues of what the problem is, get the symptoms, and if you have the experience, you can do the surgery on that system and have it fixed.”

In 1982 Campbell got his plumbing license. “I got my master’s degree in New Mexico. At the time, our state plumbing inspector said he thinks I was the youngest ever registered—at 29 years old.

Campbell said he took excellent notes and kept demanding lists because he ordered the parts he needed over the phone and had them delivered from Albuquerque once a week. “But those days are long gone,” he said.

He worked for many painters, writers and artists, including RC Gorman, Tom Noble and Michio Takayama. “I just called Donna LeFurgey, who has been drawing and advising extensively in this city. She’s a great architect,” he said.

Campbell’s license included commercial and residential plumbing, natural gas and propane. His company employed 20-30 men — and women — over the years. Much of his work came from general contractors. “I was lucky enough to be licensed and operating in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s — during the boom in this city,” Campbell said.

“When I started, I was the fifth (plumber) company in this city,” he said. “There are so many talented young guys out there now – there are maybe 40 plumbing companies in this neighborhood right now. And the plastic era has made all that possible: snapping parts and plastic gas pipes.”

Campbell still loves motorcycles – he and his friends went on regular road trips. “I just love servicing my machines and riding my motorcycles,” he said. “Just got back from a 50 mile dirt bike ride in the Gallegos Peak area today.”

He also rides a BMW street bike and recently took it on a 4-day camping trip. “I went north of Durango and over the Red Mountain to the Montrose Valley and the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park,” Campbell said.

Deborah Mason, a retired schoolteacher, has been dating Campbell for 15 years. “I proposed to her. She had been married once and I had been married twice already,” he said. ‘She said, ‘No way.’ I just love her for that.”

They both contracted COVID-19 in early December and he became very ill. “It took a long time to recover. I’m afraid I gave it to Deborah, even though she says she gave it to me,” Campbell said. “She’s that nice.”

Getting sick was a major factor in his retirement — he said he stopped doing home repairs because he wasn’t sure how safe it was. “I think I caught it in one of the houses I was in. That got me thinking – what am I doing at this age?”

Campbell said he had come to Taos with a group of hippies years ago. “We heard about the municipalities and the cheap land, and we all had high expectations,” he said. “They all went back. I’m the only one who survived.”

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